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Friday, Jun 9, 2023

Creativity Common in Valley Non-Profits

Creativity Common in Valley Non-Profits By BRAD SMITH Staff Reporter For more than a decade, Janet Elliott has seen visionaries with great ideas make every classic error. Not enough capital. No business plan. Even conflicts between founders and their boards. “I’d say about 10 percent or less (succeed) …each one has its own story, whether it was able to make it on its own, or had to merge, or just died off,” said Elliott, a veteran of 20 years with Bank of America and City National Bank. It sounds like the success rate for a venture capital firm underwriting tech start-ups, but Elliott’s figures are for the charities she has seen rise and fall over a decade in the non-profit community. “Running a non-profit is just like running a business,” said Elliott, senior vice-president with Los Angeles-based Community Partners, which serves as an incubator for new charities. “It’s just that the bottom line isn’t for the benefit of the stockholders, it’s supposed to be plowed back into the community.” The non-profit sector in southern California runs from the latest celebrity-driven cause to bread-and-butter anti-poverty programs. The competition for capital among non-profits is as challenging as in any business. “When something becomes a hot thing (private donors) jump aboard, and they tend to follow the leader,” said Los Angeles attorney David Fleming, a veteran of dozens of philanthropic campaigns. “If you want to tap into that community you have to get somebody big and sell them on your project for the most part they are very choosy.” For charities that serve the San Fernando Valley, home to more than a million people, the job is often harder. “Institutions in the Valley – and that includes charities – have always suffered from being in the shadow of their Los Angeles counterparts there is only so much money and attention to go around,” said Kevin Roderick, an author who writes extensively on Los Angeles’ civic culture. “Potential donors and volunteers who live in the Valley are also residents of Los Angeles, and the philanthropic causes over the hill in the city tend to be larger, better known and sometimes more glamorous.” Given those realities, there are non-profits in the Valley even with tiny budgets and big ambitions that are able to make it by using volunteers and creativity to get around the lack of money. Pacoima-based Meet Each Need with Dignity, or MEND, serves 38,000 people every month with a staff of 11 FTEs and a monthly budget of $73,000. MEND is the largest comprehensive anti-poverty agency in the Valley, providing free medical, dental, and vision clinics; food and clothing distribution; English as a Second Language and job training classes; after-school and Saturday enrichment programs for children; and Christmas baskets for low-income families across the northeast Valley. Executive Director Marianne Haver Hill does it with a single technique: Leverage. “Every one of our staff people is set up to be a volunteer manager; every one of our service programs ties into existing contacts throughout the community; even our fundraisers and grant proposals are done by volunteers,” said Haver Hill, who makes $70,000 annually. MEND leverages its annual operating budget of $877,000 into more than $5 million in goods and services for its clients every year, while fewer than a dozen full-time employees manage the efforts of 1,400 volunteers. “We have one paid professional who runs the medical clinic and everyone who provides the care is a volunteer,” Haver Hill said. On the other side of the Valley, West Hills-based BookEnds, which provides new and used books for libraries in schools, hospitals, and care facilities, uses similar management tactics. With a budget of $329,000, BookEnds will come up with $2 million worth of books for underserved children in FY 03-04. The group stocks libraries in public schools across Los Angeles and has provided them in battered women’s shelters, children’s’ homes, and youth centers. “The issue is real, and these are places that fly beneath the radar,” said executive director Robin M. Keefe, a former real estate broker who makes $60,000 a year running the organization. With a tiny paid staff, BookEnds relies on school children and youth groups for its “labor” and donor base. “We have a staff of four – and 20,000 student volunteers,” Keefe. “And the other key is that we collaborate I can’t build shelving, but we can turn an empty room into a library if we bring in the Rotary or the Junior League.”

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